published Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Tax preparers buckle down for final rush

Thomas Brown waves to passing cars Friday in front of Liberty Tax Service on Highway 153.
Thomas Brown waves to passing cars Friday in front of Liberty Tax Service on Highway 153.

BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee Taxes

* 3 million - Tennesseans filing tax returns this year

* 12,532 - active tax preparers in Tennessee

* 590,000 - Tennesseans filing returns in April

* 190,000 - Tennesseans requesting a filing extension

* $1,883 - Average tax refund in 2013, the second highest among the 50 states

Sources: Internal Revenue Service, WallHub.com

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While the rest of Chattanooga basks under blue skies and 70 degree weather, tax preparers across the region are pulling 12- and 13-hour shifts today to pump through the rush of last-minute filers before Tuesday's deadline.

"Everybody is in," said Diana Jacobsen, H&R Block master tax adviser. "We split shifts since we are open 8 to 9; we're fully staffed and ready. Every desk will have a preparer."

About 3 million returns will be filed in Tennessee this year, according to Internal Revenue Service spokesman Dan Boone. And in Chattanooga, H&R Block franchisee Joe Lautigar said he's seeing a bigger end-of-season rush than normal this year.

"Tax returns filed in the last few days are going to be up about 10 or 15 percent," he said. "And in this area, it probably has to do with the snow we had earlier."

Lautigar's office will be open every day this weekend, and he encouraged last-minute filers to use his drop-off service. Filers can leave their documents, let Lautigar's staff do the work, and show up the next day to go over the finished return and send it to the IRS.

"For people who haven't filed, they are running out of time," he said. "It's Form 4868 if they need to file an extension."

Boone expects almost 190,000 Tennesseans to ask for extensions to file, which anyone can do online at IRS.gov, Boone said. But filing for an extension does not mean late-filers can avoid paying their taxes now. Even filers granted the six-month extension must estimate their taxes and pay as much as they can now, Jacobsen said.

"There's a misconception that an extension gives you more time to pay, and it doesn't," she said. "It gives you more time to get the actual return in, but if you think you're going to owe this year, a payment has to go with the extension. Just sending an extension with no money doesn't get you out of the interest you would owe or late payment fees."

And anyone who waits until Tuesday to file and plans to send a paper return via snail mail will have to make it to the U.S. Post Office during normal business hours. It's been more than five years since the U.S. Postal Service offered extended hours on April 15, spokesman David Walton said.

"Eighty-four percent of people file online," he said. "And every year that keeps getting more and more."

People who have filed their returns but are having trouble paying have other options, according to the IRS. Filers who owe less than $50,000 in taxes, penalties and interest can set up a monthly payment agreement online with the IRS, and some taxpayers may even qualify for an offer-in-compromise. That's when the IRS agrees to let the filer pay less than the full amount owed.

But at Toni Lewis' two Liberty Tax Services locations in Soddy Daisy and Red Bank, her 12 staff members are going full steam until Tuesday to help filers avoid late fees and interest.

"We're open from 9 to 5 [today] and 9 to 9 Monday and Tuesday," said Toni Lewis, owner of two Liberty Tax Services locations in Soddy Daisy and Red Bank. "And if we need to, we'll be open Sunday too."

She added that the season has been steady, and while the weekend will be busy, she's confident her staff can handle the work.

"It's going to be busy, not hectic," she said. "Now, Monday and Tuesday might be a little scary."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips and story ideas.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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